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Further new US food safety rules could set new challenges for Caribbean exporters

11 March 2013

In January 2013, it was announced that the US is to introduce new food safety rules, in an effort to reduce the incidence of food-borne infections. The new rules are to involve closer scrutiny of corporate food safety plans, and will be directed at preventing outbreaks of the kind of infections that occurred in 2012 in the US. The new rules are likely to be elaborated and introduced over the coming 3 years. The new rules come just 2 years after new US food safety legislation was adopted. Smaller businesses are likely to be given longer to comply.

The new rules, according to a report from Associated Press, “are tailored to apply only to certain fruits and vegetables that pose the greatest risk, like berries, melons, leafy greens and other foods that are usually eaten raw”.  The new rules will not cover processed fruit and vegetable products. The president of the US Grocery Manufacturers’ Association, said that the food safety law “can serve as a role model for what can be achieved when the private and public sectors work together to achieve a common goal.”

The new rules apply to domestic and foreign farms, and to firms handling the products covered by the new rules. At the farm level, in order to reduce microbial contamination, the rules focus on five main areas:

  • agricultural water requirements;
  • use of biological soil amendments of animal origin (e.g. composted manure);
  • health and hygiene practices of staff;
  • control of faeces of wild and domestic animals;
  • standards for equipment, tools and buildings.

The rules also require a specified level of record-keeping. 

At the factory level, the rules focus on:

  • hazard analysis;
  • preventive controls;
  • monitoring;
  • corrective actions, verification and record-keeping.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has posted fact sheets to provide guidance on the new rules, and has invited comments on the proposals by 16 May 2013. The FDA’s overview document indicates that exemptions are provided to farms whose sales are below US$500,000 per annum, although these exemptions “can be revoked under certain circumstances”. It also notes that “foreign countries can seek variances from provisions of the rule because of local growing conditions”. However, foreign producers will still be required to meet basic food safety requirements. 

Editorial comment

Given the challenges faced in Caribbean ACP countries in attaining compliance with the 2011 US food safety laws (see Agritrade articles ‘ Contrary signs on impact of stricter US food safety regulation on Jamaic...’, 28 November 2011 and ‘ Serious food safety challenges face Jamaican exports to US markets’, 6 October 2011), the new rules that apply to fresh fruit and vegetable exports could pose further challenges. A consultation process has been initiated by the US FDA, and it would appear necessary for Caribbean companies and sector associations to engage with this consultation process to determine to what extent exemptions granted under the proposed legislation would apply to Caribbean producers. On this informed basis, investment plans can then be developed to ensure full compliance with US requirements prior to the effective entry into force of the new legislative requirements. 

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